Saturday, November 5, 2011

What's On My TV, Part I

Technologically speaking I live in a bit of a mixed environment. In my garret student-apartment where I live during the week, I don’t have cable, but I do have a really nice LCD TV with a built in DVD-player and HDMI jack, so between my computer and Netflix, I manage to watch as much TV as I like during a week. The great advantage to this system is that it allows me to watch only shows which I choose, which leads to a pretty solid stream of Quality TV. Since this is an area I am coming more and more to focus on in my writing, I thought I’d start a semi-regular column here and let you know what’s going on in my own personal TV-land. Of course, you’ll see some currently airing shows here as well, because at home Mock’ and I most certainly do have cable, and a DVR, and all the modern TV conveniences. So, Readers Mine, here’s what’s on my TV.

Breaking Bad: So Good It Doesn’t Fit on the Scale, A+.
Seriously, if you haven’t been watching Breaking Bad, which just finished up its fourth season, get your ass to Amazon or iTunes or wherever and buy all four. This is, beyond a shadow of a doubt, the best show on TV and for my money may well rank as the current pinnacle of Quality Television as a whole. In brief, the show follows Walter White (Bryan Cranston) and Jesse Pinkman (Aaron Paul) into the world of mass production and distribution of crystal methamphetamine, which Walt and a genius chemist, knows how to make better than anyone. The show brilliantly places the viewer in the most morally ambiguous of relationships with the  main characters, who you like, but know damn well are going places from which they can never, should never be allowed to, return. Alongside a humor so black it often reminds you of the gulf between stars, show creator and showrunner Vince Gilligan and his crew pay exquisite attention to detail, and there are no true minor characters, every one being fleshed out as a unique individual, from the criminal lawyer Saul Goodman (Bob Odenkirk) to the meth-whore Wendy (Julia Minesci), to Goodman’s secretary Francesca (Tina Parker), Gilligan & Co. take the time to make them all real. Watch this show, and watch out for more about it right here.

Justified: A-.
A show recommended to me over a year ago by the great Mary Alice Money, which I finally got around to watching this fall. I’ve been a Timothy Olyphant fan since Deadwood so I was happy to see him getting regular work, and tuned in expecting a pretty standard police procedural. Happily, I was completely wrong. Oh, there are elements of that, but Justified goes much farther. Olyphant plays Deputy U.S. Marshall Raylan Givens, something of an anachronism with a Stetson and a Glock whose sense of justice winds up getting him exiled from the Marshalls office in Miami, to Lexington, Kentucky which is too close to the infamous coal fields of Harlan County, where Raylan grew up, and where his father, a ne’er-do-well lifelong criminal, still lives. The series is based on the character of Givens as created by Elmore Leonard, and sucked me in immediately. As with Breaking Bad local color is a huge part of this show, but instead of the hard, arid spaces of New Mexico, Justified takes the viewer into the almost claustrophobic lushness and humidity of Southern forests and small towns, and lives that are consumed in the black hells of the coal mines. The reality of Eastern Kentucky is a hard land with hard people, and Justified brings them eloquently to the small screen. Again, character realization here is exquisite, particularly in the case of recurring sort-of villain Boyd Crowder (Walton Goggins). My one complaint is that the series doesn’t do so well by its women characters, although I have only seen the first season, so things may well improve. Indeed there are strong hints that they will in the burgeoning characters of Ava Crowder (Joelle Carter) and Helen Givens (Linda Gehringer). A tremendously well-acted show with a solid blend of humor throughout. Another that’s at the top of my list.

Babylon 5: A.
The oldest show I’m currently rewatching, and still one of the very best. Babylon 5 is J. Michael Straczynski’s epic, ground-breaking, Hugo award-winning science fiction series detailing five tumultuous years in the lives of a group of humans and aliens who live in “one million, five hundred thousand tons of spinning metal… all alone in the night.” Straczynski plotted out the show as a five season arc before the first episode was ever written. This intricate plotting and extended arcs earned the series the reputation of a “novel for television,” and the five seasons can be read as the five basic parts of a novel: exposition, rising action, climax, falling action, and dénouement. This was something new in television, and although long story arcs are now part and parcel of the small screen experience, Straczynski started it all. Not to mention using groundbreaking CGI on a weekly basis, and attracting some of the best and brightest in SF to script individual episodes (including D.C. Fontana, Harlan Ellison, Neil Gaiman, and David Gerrold). Again, it's an exquisitely acted show with an incredible ensemble cast including Bruce Boxleitner (John Sheridan) Mira Furlan (Deleen), the late, great Andreas Katsulas (G'kar) and the unforgettable Peter Jurasik (Londo Mollari). 

More than all of that, however, Babylon 5 was the first time I realized how powerful, how wonderful, TV could be. Back in the early 1990s, when the show first aired, I didn’t have cable, and the local station that broadcast B5 did so at 2 am on Sunday morning, so every Saturday, without fail, I stayed up to watch it. It was the first time a TV show ever made me tense up in my chair, made me laugh out loud, tear up, and spring from my seat with a “Holy Shit! Did you see that?!??!” Babylon 5 is where Quality TV begins for me, and now after several years, I’ve finally convinced Mock’ to watch it with me. So far, it holds up beautifully, and watching it with her, seeing her see it for the first time, is absolutely incredible. The entire series is available in whatever format you prefer. Watch it. You’ll never regret it.

Well, this turned out to be longer than I was thinking it would be, so I’m going to dub it “Part I,” and break up my TV post into several. Tune in soon, Readers Mine, and in the meantime, happy TV watching!

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